In recent months there have been dozens of notable supply chain issues impacting the economy. Empty shelves and frustration. From basic items like canned vegetables, to complex ones like computer chips used in cars – virtually every corner of the U.S. economy has been hurt by shortages.
Arthur Wheaton of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations recently sat down with FingerLakes1.com’s Ted Baker to discuss the supply chain, shortages, demand, and COVID-19’s impact on all three.
‘Supply chain’ is a term that entered many people’s vocabulary with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the concept dates back to the early 20th century and the rise in mass production. Wheaton explains that goods used to be produced where they were sold- local producers would get their goods to local stores via trucks or cars. This relatively simple producer-to-consumer chain was upended with the large scale adoption of mass production methods.
Now, big producers make a lot of different products and ship them all across the world. What the ‘supply chain’ means to the average person is that the components for the products you’re buying are being made in different locations and travel great distances to get to you. If there’s any glitches along the way, that means potential problems getting those goods in your hands.
Wheaton says if you’re looking for the specific cause of a certain supply chain issue, it really depends on the product. He says one product at the mercy of the supply chain is chicken. Recently, there have been issues getting chickens to different warehouses and grocery stores. Another product facing supply chain difficulty is computer chips for cell phones- Wheaton says there have been a few recent fires in facilities where they make these chips, which has meant going back to square one in terms of production.
Of course, one of the biggest factors in supply chain disruption is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With employees calling in sick and having to isolate for 10 days if they’re infected with the virus, a smaller workforce means slower turnaround times. Wheaton says another issue involves transporting shipping containers. There are typically enough containers and enough ships to get the goods to port, but not enough semi-truck drivers to move containers off the docks and get them to the right location for retail.
“…there’s supply chain issues with production, supply chain issues with distribution, and supply chain backups with logistics trying to get the containers out of the way. So there’s a laundry list of issues and they all seem to hit right at the same time when we all need [goods],” said Wheaton.
When asked if supply chain issues had to do primarily with goods produced overseas, Wheaton said goods produced in the United States often require small parts produced abroad, so they are not immune to supply chain issues. Still, issues can be less severe if the majority of component are made in the U.S.
In terms of shortages, Wheaton says canned cat food is a hard find in grocery stores these days.
“It’s not the food they’re short [on] as much as the cans,” said Wheaton.
There is also a shortage of glass bottles, which he says has to do in part with people not recycling at the rate they can or should.